Yeesh, even the ‘mons people tend to forget about are downright adorable.
This one feels unfortunately obvious, though. Pokémon thrives on mascot characters that make for great stuffed animals; of course they’d do a teddy bear. They’ve done it really well, mind you – Teddiursa’s paw being perpetually up to its mouth makes for some precious poses, and he feels like he fits right in with Johto’s other adorably–deformed baby monsters.
The noticeable unique detail here is the crescent-moon patch in his forehead, which luckily works really well for me. It’d be all-too-easy to go the Sailor Moon route and just stamp a smaller crescent on the noggin, but here it’s a central feature that blends into the rest of the head, nestling oh-so-perfectly against his muzzle.
The one thing that gets me is that, with the direction it’s in, Teddiursa’s patch is of a waning crescent moon. Surely it should be a waxing crescent, signifying that he still has growing to do and an evolution to go? Grr, growl, pedantry.
But I digress; that’s Teddiursa in a nutshell. He’s a pretty standard idea, but executed well, which is the exact playbook for a lot of these ‘mons in the middle of each regional Pokédex.
Ursaring falls somewhere between Heracross‘ “accentuate an already-cool animal” and Seel‘s “not enough new material”. Yup, he sure is a bear, and he looks every bit as massive and intimidating and somehow-still-cuddly as the real thing. I love his permanent frown and angry-eyes, and the shaggy fringes on his shoulders do enough to break up what’s otherwise a solid chunk of brown mammal, but that’s still all just Bear Stuff.
The literal Moon Bear motif, though, bails him out from being tonally flat. The “full/new moon” chest pattern is again doing good work in making him not just a wall of fur, and it’s a nice evolution from the crescent-moon, but it’s kind of plastered-on in a way that Teddiursa’s markings weren’t. Ursaring is even more competent at being an even more basic idea: big, chonky, lovable bear.
And that’s… fine. People like bears. Bears are kind of a real-life Normal-type, anyway: the poster child for “big woodland mammal”. While I ding some Pokémon for not doing more, accepting and doubling down on what nature already did right the first time is a big part of what gives this series broad appeal in the first place. So, good job on that, Ursaring.
Oddly enough, his game depictions have changed over time – he started with just three claws per paw in his first appearance before bumping the number up to four in the GBA generation, then eventually stuck with a full five per hand. The fact that he’s always had five-clawed hands in the anime suggests that this was more a “not enough space to draw the details” problem back in early games, but I still like the reduced-detail look. A full five fingers on a cartoon-style animal illustration feels weird somehow.
Ursaring behaves just like you’d expect to in the games. He’s a no-frills Normal type with high attack, low speed, and slightly-below-average anything else. He gets Swords Dance to boost it even further, a wide pool of moves to use it with, too, and stacking a few abilities like Guts and Facade can make him properly terrifying. He’s a bit of a blunt hammer, but that’s the way a lot of us play, anyway. It’s just a shame he’s not available earlier in the campaigns where he does appear.
So I kinda love the pun of these two being Moon Bears. While we look at these and think “grizzly” – I blame Teddiursa’s need to be a recognizable brown teddy – and might even think more quickly of “sun bears”, a “moon bear” is an actual animal with an actual crescent patch of light fur. The colloquial “ring-of-the-moon bear” is even domestic to northern Japan, albeit not to the Kansai area that Johto is based on.
The moon theme kind of plays double duty for these two, possibly the more obvious one being a play on “ursa minor” and “ursa major”. The moon is clearly an emblem of night sky, which brings the mind to stars, and beyond that to constellations. It’s a nice thematic tie-in, even if I doubt that the Ursa constellations were named after an Asian black bear in particular. It marks a happy coincidence of how humans everywhere and everywhen tend to gravitate loving the night sky and certain animals, I suppose.
Sneakier, though, is how a “moon bear” works with the series mechanically. One of their more notable bear-acteristics, aside from being fur-ocious parents, is the need to hibearnate through the grizzly winter months, which would be im-paws-ible to translate to a Gameboy Cub-lor with little concept of a calendar.
(Okay, I swear I’ve got all those worked out of my system now.)
But what the designers could do was tie them into the games’ fancy new day-and-night cycle. Bears tend to forage at night, anyway, and of course teddy bears are associated with bedtime. Clearly these two are meant to be nocturnal to play into Gold & Silver‘s then-fresh mechanics, right?
They aren’t, and never have been.
What a colossal waste of a theme in something that so clearly works with actual gameplay. I love you, Pokémon, but you miss some really obvious tricks at times – so obvious, in fact, that I was downright positive that they were a nocturnal species until I started reading up on these two. They don’t even get to be hibernating species in the one generation that added changing seasons to Pokémon biology and habitats. What a shame.
Teddiursa does at least redeem himself a little in the flavor text, noting that each individual’s hands taste of a different delectable honey. Why, pray tell?
They make their own.
Of course you don’t want to bother chasing off a nest of three-foot-high hornets every time you want a snack – unless you’re the brave Hisuian variety that pilfers from Combee. It’s just not a power dynamic that works in quite the same way that it does in the real world. So instead, they stalk Beedrill to their favorite fruit and pollen spots, then blend their own brews in safety. (Presumably Teddiursa has a second stomach for this, too? Or do they partner up with Shuckle?)
They’re crafty little buggers – and “craftiness” is an attribute of bears well known to any hiker who’s had to string up a food bag overnight. Doubly so if you’ve had one get into your fruit leather, anyway. It continues to be a wonder that people go backpacking at all in this setting, let alone for apparent months at a time.
…and that wouldn’t even help you with Ursaring, who’s a noted great climber. How does a 6-foot, 280-lb absolute unit sleep in tree branches? I dunno, how does he throw a Fire Punch? This setting only makes as much sense as it wants to at any given moment, yet here I am still puzzling it out in pseudo-essays.
My last note is that Teddiursa and Ursaring’s alternate, “shiny” colorations are a neon green. Not quite dull enough to be mossy – possibly more a glow-in-the-dark green? For lack of any other connection, it reminds me of those glow-in-the-dark stars that every third or fourth kid had stuck to their bedroom ceiling, which isn’t totally irrelevant to the theme here.
Not to hint to far ahead, but we’ll get yet another plush Pokémon over a decade down the line, which puts this family in the dangerous position of “redundant animal”. But that’s a discussion for when we meet Pokémon’s other cuddly bear. (No, not that one.)
As-is, though, Teddiursa is kind of a basic monster, and one that the series isn’t honestly better or worse for having. Personally, I think they’re super-charming and a great use of motif – I’ve got a stuffed Teddiursa looking at me from across the room right now, after all. Still, while I personally would keep them in Reserve, the core series hasn’t had them available in the wild in seven years as of writing, which points to Retirement for these guys.
But if you bring them back, make them nocturnal, gul dernit.
…I guess evolving on the full moon is the next best thing.
And, would you look at that. The ring-of-the-moon bear is endemic to northern Japan, so the evolution comes to us from the region based on Japan’s northern island – coincidentally, where one of the biggest grizzlies of them all live.
It’s all coming together.
Well, not all of it. There’s stuff about Ursaluna that I think is really cool – like how he’s given up on honey and moved his diet to full-on foraging through pounds of mud. That it doubles up as a sort of armor, over doubling his weight, forcing him onto all fours, and literally making him Bulletproof by his passive ability. It even makes a cute little “full moon behind the clouds” vignette on his forehead.
But I still think that he has one too many claws on each of his forelimbs – it always feels weird to see a cartoon with the full set of five, even if it is accurate, and especially because his hind limbs have the cartoonish three. And where I praised Teddiursa’s forehead-moon was sleek and well-integrated into his fur patterns, Ursaluna’s looks like somebody slapped a sticker on there and called it good. Plus it feels like a weirder inclusion after Ursaring was comparatively bald. Maybe he was rocking a New Moon look, I guess?
The new look does them some good, though; the added bulk bumps his numbers back up and above something like Nidoqueen, they’re allocated incredibly smartly, and he gets two type immunities despite Normal/Ground feeling like a mash-up of two very basic elemental types. The guy walks unfortunately slowly in the very speed-forward Legends, but he can take a hit and bring it back around like an absolute champion.
With Ursa Major and Ursa Minor played out, there wasn’t any more room to go on the classical-constellation route, so it looks like the series jumped ship and went back to more local folklore. Making their greatest bear part-earth smacks of a reference to Kim-un-kamuy in Ainu mythology, a benevolent lord of the mountains.
And why shouldn’t they? It fits perfectly-well-together for Legends to pay reference to Japan’s indigenous peoples in its monster design, what with the game being set far into the past. It may be a bit surface-level, but to be frank, a lot of Pokémon kind of are to begin with, and it dodges certain gorier traditions. If nothing else, it feels like a nice capstone to pull in bits and pieces of the Japanese bear population both in local heritage and in their physical presence.
My stance on the Ursa family has only changed upwards with this new addition; they feel like the bear Pokémon now more than ever. The packed mud-armor is a little cartoony, but there’s a strong heart to these designs, and I’ll always be happy to see them rotate in from the Reserves.
Any and all appreciation for Teddiursa, Ursaring, and Ursaluna is welcome in the comments!